Bell (typeface)

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Not to be confused with the sans-serif typefaces Bell Gothic and Bell Centennial developed for AT&T, which are not related.
Category Serif
Classification Scotch Roman
Designer(s) Richard Austin
Foundry British Letter Foundry

Bell (sometimes known as John Bell) is a serif typeface designed in 1788 by Richard Austin. It is considered an early example of the Scotch Roman style, a style featuring stylish contrasts between thick and thin strokes and ball terminals on many letters. After a short initial period of popularity, the face fell into disuse until it was revived in the 1930s, after which it enjoyed an enduring acceptance as a text face.


John Bell, impressed by the clarity and contrast found in contemporary French typefaces cut by Firmin Didot, commissioned Austin, a skilful punch cutter first trained as an engraver, to produce a face for his British Letter Foundry. Bell wanted a sharply serifed face, like Didot in its contrast of thick and thin strokes, but more like Baskerville in its use of bracketed, less rectilinear, serifs. The result, later described by Stanley Morison as the first English modern typeface, is sometimes considered the earliest example of a Scotch Roman face. After Bell's foundry was closed, the matrices came into the possession of Stephenson Blake.

The initial success of the face was short lived however, as the introduction of lithography at the beginning of the nineteenth century caused taste in typefaces to change dramatically. Thus, while Bell's type was seldom seen after 1800 in England, it went on to become a favorite in the United States. When the Boston publisher Henry Houghton went to Europe to purchase type for his Riverside Press he selected Bell. Back in Boston the face was called copperplate.[1] In 1900, when Bruce Rogers found the face at the Riverside Press, he used it for book work under the name Brimmer. D.B. Updike used another font of this type at his Merrymount Press where it was called Mountjoye.[2]

In 1926 Stanley Morison came upon a sample of the type and arranged for its revival by Monotype Corporation which appeared in 1930. The 1932 Monotype revival included a wide range of Austin's character variants, including swash versions of the uppercase characters A, J, N, Q, T, V, and Y. The figures are distinctive for being lining, and proportioned to set at approximately three-quarter the height of the capitals. The designer Jan Tschichold favored the typeface Bell in much of his book design, and mentioned it in his book Typographische Gestaltung.

Foundry type[edit]

Digital versions[edit]

Monotype's contemporary digital version was developed under the supervision of Robin Nicholas, and is based on the larger display style of Monotype's metal version. Another digital version, believed to be based on a smaller cut of the same metal type, is available from URW++.[4] Austin, sold by Commercial Type and designed by Barnes, Hasebe and Ruderman, is a loose adaptation created for Harper’s Bazaar magazine. It is a sophisticated professional release featuring optical sizes and alternate styles such as swash italics.[5]


  1. ^ Provan, Archie, and Alexander S. Lawson, 100 Type Histories (volume 1), National Composition Association, Arlington, Virginia, 1983, p. 22.
  2. ^ a b McGrew, Mac, American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century, Oak Knoll Books, New Castle Delaware, 1993, ISBN 0-938768-34-4, p. 29.
  3. ^ Macmillsn, Niel.An A-Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press, 2006 (pg. 38-39)
  4. ^ Mosley, Professor James. "Two versions of Bell (comments on Typophile thread)". Typophile (archived). Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  5. ^ "Austin". Commercial Type. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 

External links[edit]